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20 Tips for Expats Managing a Business From Another Country

Everyday the world of business becomes more globalized and it is no secret that borders and traditional office structures are being disrupted. This is especially beneficial if you are an expat or about to become one as the advent of the internet enables you to be productive anywhere in the world. However, there are so many combinations and permutations in terms of the rules of the country where you may be managing a business as well as the rules of your own native country. How do you straddle those lines and where does one start to learn about managing a business as an expat? This list is meant to be a general guide of tips that could be useful no matter what country you decide to enter.

1. Research Reliable Internet Access and Local Providers

This may sound kind of obvious but don’t take for granted the fact that you can grab an easy wifi connection at the Starbucks or local library in your home town. Absolutely perform extensive research before moving and keep an offline list of reliable wifi spots in your new region. Secondly, make sure the office and/or residence you rent has reliable internet access. That may be one of the most important yet overlooked areas of business research not just for expats but businesses in general. Think of the loss of productivity and context switching that takes place when you don’t have a reliable connection.

2. Best Office Rentals and Places to Live

Just like traditional marketplaces in the U.S. for example like Craigslist and Zillow, there are actually expat specific rental booking systems in other countries. Some helpful ones are listed here geographically:

  • OnlyExpats.nl – The Netherlands
  • ExpatRentals.eu – Bahrain, Belgium, Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, Switzerland, UK, UAE
  • Expat.com (rentals needed section) – On this mega site you can post a flat needed in just about every country in the appropriate section.

In terms of office space, co-working may be the best and most scalable option. There are plenty of overseas co-working platforms and even a cool new network called Copass.org if you need space in multiple countries.

3. Know the Local Chat Apps

The good news is there is more consolidation and less regional-specific usage in terms of this category. However, there are still some apps that get more traffic in a particular region. As a global business person, you can decide which to maintain a presence on and here is the list of 10 of the largest in the world:

Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat (very big in China), Viber, Kakaotalk (very big in South Korea), Snap, Skype (which may have the most global business use out of all).

And a big one not just for global communications but also internal team communications is Slack.

4. Bikesharing and Local Transportation Apps

Once again, smartphones and the internet has made it easier to navigate major metropolitan areas, especially for foreigners and expats. Check to see if Uber and Lyft are available in the country you plan to enter. Those are the big ones in the states, however in India for example Bla Bla Car has a lot of traction. The large one in China is Didi so you may consider downloading that if you plan to become an expat there.

And one of the best resources on the internet is BikeShareMap.com. It redirects to a Google world map populated with data points in every major city, linking to the URLs of the bike sharing platforms behind them. Archiving this site is a no brainer for any expat entrepreneur.

5. Meetups and Networking With Local Entrepreneurs

This will likely be a more successful series of activities than the typical awkward networking events that happen in one’s own native country. The fact that you have moved and will be meeting others in a similar situation will create common ground to discuss. Even if you are a lone wolf by nature, building a network in business is important.

6. Local Rules in General

Little things like noise ordinances, drinking laws and other local laws and customs should be well researched before choosing to live somewhere. One of the best ways is visiting the appropriate embassy site and even possibly asking them for the appropriate information online.

7. Find a Local Advisor and Someone you Trust

In business finding a proper mentorship may be one of the most valuable interactions you can foster. So when moving to another country it may be extremely wise to seek out someone with local savvy. There are many ways to go about this if you do not know someone off the top of your head. Obviously send a polite email to anyone in your contacts who you think could advise or make such an introduction. And of course, just like one of the golden rules of business, give before you take. Maybe mention in your outreach email that you would be willing to help this person out in your area of expertise and/or offer to host them if they visit your native country. The advice and tips you will get and time saved researching will be invaluable.

8. Local Tax Expert

The most important thing to remember is that when you become an expat you still have to handle your tax situation in your native country. Depending on your country and continent there are so many things to account for like VAT in Europe, LLCs vs GmBH for example and all kinds of confusing combinations of taxes and business structure, this is another area you should consult about before moving. There are even accounting firms that specialize in advising expats.

9. Local Food and Best Places to Eat on a Budget

Street food is great for tasty cheap eats depending on your palate, although you may not want to eat out every meal. Also, you may have dietary restrictions and/or want to prepare your meals at home. The good news is there are a ton of food blogs featuring popular farmers markets and other hidden gems all over the world.

10. Managing a Globally Distributed Team

Of course you don’t have to be an expat to work with people in a distributed fashion. That being said it is highly likely when you become one that you will need a suite of tools and efficient processes to make it work.

Some of the best platforms are listed here:

  • Slack – For global chat and team discussions
  • Anytime Mailbox – Manage your postal mail from anywhere in the world 24/7.
  • Google Hangouts – Great for team video meetings and collaboration
  • Google Drive – Free document sharing for entire teams
  • Upwork – Higher quality freelancing marketplace to get things done
  • Evernote – Cloud based notes and tasks organizer
  • Toggl – Time tracking app with note taking per project
  • GitHub – Collaborative code repository for iterative engineering

There are more but these must have tools will let you manage a business from anywhere.

11. Passport and Customs Issues

Aside from online research one of the best and simplest ways could be to consult with a travel attorney or advisor. Even if 4 – 5 hours of advice ends up costing $500, it could be a wise investment. Just like any other service, you can ask for referrals and find someone experienced online.

12. Banking and Finance

Of course square and paypal are easy ways to send money digitally although there still may be restrictions and local regulations if you want to port that into local currency. In China WePay is one of the largest ways to send money online. It would make sense to make an appointment with the bank in your home country and get their advice. They will likely be able to advise or send you to the right person.

13. Language Apps

Google Translate is probably the best known one where you can type text in one language and get a close translation into another with just about any combination. However, you may not want to just be typing stuff all day in between conversations and sentences. There are some new devices and apps that actually translate language in real-time. Check some of these out and download a couple:

The Cool Tricks App uses your phone’s camera to translate signs and other text. iTranslate Voice attempts to translate voice in near real-time which is crazy. Both of these should be of value to you!

14. Learn Some of the Local Language as a Sign of Respect

Let’s be honest, even though English is the most predominantly spoken language for international business, most people are comfortable speaking in their native tongue. If you take the time to learn some of the language in the country you are staying in, it is likely to show a sign of respect for the local culture and an effort and appreciation. Pimsleur and Rosetta Stone are two of the most popular programs.

15. Plan How Long You Want to Stay in Advance

If you find out that you absolutely love a country, you may even want to become a citizen of that place. In advance you should research how difficult it is (if likely at all) to become a citizen of a particular country. And if you enjoy living there and it is possible, you could take the appropriate steps and classes concurrently while managing your business.

16. Health Options

Get a quote on health insurance and also make a map of all the local hospitals and urgent care type facilities. In addition, once you arrive it may be wise to stock up on some simple health supplies also. So many travelers forget this important step.

17. All in One Online Forums

Here is a list of all around good expat forums to explore:

  • Expat.com
  • ExpatForum.com
  • ExpatExchange.com
  • ExpatFocus.com
  • GeoExpat.com

18. Think of the Terrain and Activities That Inspire You

Many of us have the travel bug and a spirit of adventure that must be met. That being said, analyze your personality as well as that of the country. Meaning if you love surfing, then find the top countries in the world different from your own that have those coastlines, etc. If you love architecture you may want to travel to a city like Barcelona for example. Figuring out who you are is of top priority.

19. Give Something Back

In any situation in life, when you show generosity you are more likely to be accepted by that community. For example, a long time ago at one of my first jobs, a few months into it there was a new hire as the company expanded. That guy brought bagels and cream cheese for everyone in the office and won over friends quickly. That small gesture made a big impression on me and you can do something similar in your new country. Would you feel comfortable donating your time to a local charity? Or maybe you could host a mixer for expats and entrepreneurs at your office or place of residence in that country. You are way more likely to make a positive impression that way.

20. Have a Plan B, Plan C and Plan D

This goes for business in general but especially when you are operating in another country. Make sure you have a proper runway to fund your operations and if you need supplemental income on the side, figure that out in advance. You could possibly teach a language class and I would find those opportunities before moving. If you are a coder, you can instruct a class in person or online for example. If you have construction or handyman experience, you may find local income as that is an international skill as well.

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